If I had to choose the best Finnish song of all time, it would be Wigwam’s ‘Grass for Blades‘ live recording by YLE in 1975. I would also pick that particular version of the song to be the best song I’ve ever heard in my entire life, over all the songs in the world. The studio version of the song simply does not carry the same magic as the live recording captures, which transcends its medium. To my mind, it transforms from mere music into art: it unfolds something and speaks to me every time. The keyboard magic by Pedro Hietanen and the godsend guitar solos by Jukka Tolonen especially expand my consciousness into another realm altogether. The whole band plays seamlessly together in a world-class performance, with Jim Pembroke’s strong vocals grounding it in reality. Simply put: progressive-rock at its finest. During my travels around the world and back I’ve played this song to so many people, and it seems to speak across music genre preferences and cultural backgrounds. This only reinforces my feeling that this is not a product, but this is art in the form of music.
Recently, I saw Wigwam perform at their sold-out Logomo gig (their whole 50-year anniversary tour was sold-out). It was my first time at Logomo, and I have to say that it is one of the finest places I have been to- in Finland or abroad- to enjoy a gig of this calibre. I’ve listened to Wigwam for almost 20 years, I own most of their LPs, and I consider the band to be in my Top 3 bands for a desert island (along with King Crimson and Kingston Wall). So I was really looking forward to the gig, but even with all the expectations I had, it didn’t affect the experience. It was simply mesmerising. Nothing is ever perfect, but this gig was damn near it.
Wigwam’s album Nuclear Nightclub was number one in the Finnish charts in 1975. It was also voted the second best Finnish album of all time by the music magazine Soundi in the year 2005. But a lot has changed since 1975. In an mtvuutiset.fi article published ahead of the Logomo gig, Rekku Rechardt, the lead guitarist of the band (who played a spellbinding set at Logomo), explained that Wigwam were originally making music in the flow of the 70s zeitgeist; that they did not think about money at all when making their songs, and that was the way in which music was approached in those days. Rekku adds that he considers himself fortunate to have been able to grow as a musician during a time when experimentation, personality and creating something new were appreciated and expected. He also points out that the music business is nowadays, indeed, a business: producing music instead of letting someone create it.
I agree with Rekku, and would argue that music is not created anymore, it is manufactured. I think it is as if people expect the same from music as from McDonalds – that the products always fulfil the same criteria, just with some alterations between the frame of the buns. This in turn means that music is no longer art per se, but rather a product masquerading as art. The music industry creates products to be consumed. The process is very calculated and mass market oriented, and sold to the public as a guided missile certain to hit the target. Furthermore, the markets themselves are produced, shaped and studied to a certain degree to maximise the profits. Well, this is no new news to anybody.
Luckily, nowadays there is a niche, where I can hide myself from all the mass-produced products and live happily-ever-after in my own bubble. This cosy niche is created by the internet; it freed me from monoculture in the early 2000s. It has been argued that the 90s is the last monocultural decade that can be visited with mass nostalgia. While the 90s is already making a comeback, the death of monoculture came when the internet made it possible to choose what you can listen to, watch, read and so on ad infinitum; thus, I’ve been able to create my own (pop)cultural bubble.
My bubble is so water proof that I know almost nothing about contemporary Finnish (or international) TV, celebrities or pop music. I haven’t owned or watched commercial TV for 15 years, I never listen to radio, and I have adblock on my browsers and on my phone. Why? First of all, I detest advertisements, which I personally consider to be mental pollution of the worst kind. Also, I want to choose my own bullshit- I don’t need anyone to force feed it to me. On the flip side, one of the best things is that it has never been easier to create your own content and art with the help of the massive amount of information available online, from music programs to painting courses. As Marx believed that humans are, in their core nature, creative beings, so I say: Artists of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your Radio Nova.
In my own defence, as a music consumer I’m an omnivore: I can enjoy anything from Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic‘ to Claude Debussy’s impressionistic piano concertos. I’m not saying that my taste in music is in any way better than others (although we all might think that we are better than average).
In any case, my point about the death of the monoculture is that through my self-created cultural bubble I am forming my own identity. But, more increasingly, it defines me also in negation. In other words, all the things I do not watch or listen to are also part of my identity. And, of course, there is far more of those things that I do not consume than those that I do. While it is a matter of debate as to how free we actually are online, I claim that we are freer than in 1994, when I could only skip through three TV channels. I did not have Spotify, I had a cassette player, and I was listening to Pet Shop Boys’ Go West because I saw it on TV. Alas, those were the days- but now I have the internet, and I have the freedom to consume the music that I consider to be art.
So what is art besides a word? I only know what art is for me. Therefore, I have to settle with Aristotle, who said that art is for catharsis- at its best you can relate to it, and it purifies and cleanses its audience emotionally. But when it comes to the definition of art, I really do not care who considers what to be worthy of that label. To me, Wigwam is art. The times of the 60s and 70s made it possible. Nowadays, Wigwam could never be number one in the Finnish charts, because now music has to be made into a product that is sold to the masses. Luckily, there’s light at the end of the wideband cable: internet can provide a platform for all kinds of music, where artistic freedoms are not dictated by big companies.